By Mike Dunn

 

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Despite criticism of the idea from some daycare providers, a Philadelphia City Council committee today okayed a bill that changes the approval process for small, neighborhood daycare centers.

Philadelphia’s new zoning code — which took effect two years ago — changed the way that some daycare centers get city approval.

Prior to that, group daycares with up to twelve children  would need to get a variance to be in a residential area, and to get a variance the owner would have to prove a hardship.

Under the new zoning code, they would need only a special exception, which puts the burden of proof on opponents to show the zoning board why the license should not be approved.

But Councilman Brian O’Neill argued that the old way was better.

“I just ask that we go back to the commonsense approach that we had before — that it not be a special exception, that it remain a variance as it was.  We did fine for the last sixty years with that, and there was no need to change that,” O’Neill told his colleagues.

(City councilman Brian O'Neill, in file photo.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(City councilman Brian O’Neill, in file photo. Image from City of Phila. TV)

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So, the committee was considering O’Neill’s bill that would revert the zoning code to the old way, and force new daycare owners to get a variance.

This met with opposition at the hearing from several daycare providers.

“If enacted this bill would erect a barrier for all applicants, rather than helping to weed out those likely to cause problems for their neighbors,” said Shawn Towey, early childhood policy coordinator for the group Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

Also speaking at the hearing was Susan Burt Collins, with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Early Childhood Coalition.

“They are saying to the parents, ‘Take your kids to some big, institutional setting in a strip mall far from your home.’  This bill is a hammer designed to hamper childcare alternatives for Philadelphia families,” she said.

And Monica Wright, speaking for the local Association of Child Day Care Providers, said, “Why have a bill to make anything harder for people who take care of kids?  Why make anything harder for us?”

To meet some of their concerns, O’Neill promised the Rules Committee he would amend the bill to limit its scope, and with that assurance the committee approved the bill and sent it to the full Council for a vote.